‘News Briefs’ Archive
37 Oromo nationals are believed to have been killed and about 20,000 others displaced in relation to an alleged dispute over a piece of land between the Ogaden and Oromia regional states in Eastern Ethiopia. The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has issued an urgent action in which it urged the Federal Government to take an urgent action to stop the killings and the displacements. Below is the full text of the urgent action by HRLHA:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) would like to express its deep concern over the negligence of both the federal and regional governments in Ethiopia regarding the violence that has been going on for about six months against the Oromos in Eastern Hararge Zone of Oromia Regional State.
According to reports obtained by HRLHA from different sources, this government-backed violence that has been going on in the name of border dispute around the Anniya, Jarso and Miyesso districts between the Oromia and Ogaden regional states has already resulted in the death and/or disappearance of 37 Oromo nationals and the displacement of about 20,000 others. Around 700 different types of cattle and other valuable possessions are also reported to have been looted. The reports indicate that the violence has been backed by two types of armed forces (the Federal Liyou/Special Police and the Ogaden Militia) from the Ogadenis side, while on the side of the Oromos, even those who demonstrated the intentions of defending themselves in the same manner were disarmed, dispossessed and detained. Despite these facts, the reports also dissociate the Ogadeni nationals from the violence mentioning that they have never made claims of ownership of the piece of land in the name of which the government-backed violence has been taking place. HRLHA has also learnt that the said piece of land was demarcated and declared to be part of Oromia Regional State during the 1996 referendum.
Among the 37 dead and/or disappeared Oromos were local Oromo elders who approached the armed government forces in an effort to resolve the violence in a peaceful manner. According to HRLHA informants, the hundreds of thousands of displaced Oromos fled to the highland areas in Eastern Hararge Zone in search of temporary shelters and other basic needs. The reports add that the displaced Oromos did not get any kind of help from any local, regional, or federal sources. More worrisome is that there are no hints as to when and where the violence against innocent civilians is going to end. Besides, the fact that the governments at various levels turned blind eyes and deaf ears toward such deadly and destructive violence for this all time strengthens the allegations that the federal government and the ruling party are behind the conspiracy of clearing the area suspected of harbouring armed opposition groups of anything on it.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa urges the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Regional Government of Oromia to discharge their responsibilities of ensuring the safety and stability of citizens by taking immediate actions of interference to bring the violence to end facilitate the return of the displaced Oromos back to their homes. It also calls upon all local, regional and international diplomatic and human rights organizations to impose necessary pressures on both the federal and regional governments so that they refrain from committing irresponsible actions against own citizens for the purpose of political gains.
The UNESCO has awarded the Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, who has been detained since June 2011, the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression”.
An independent international jury of media professionals took note of Reeyot Alemu’s contribution to numerous and independent publications. She wrote critically about political and social issues, focusing on the root causes of poverty, and gender equality, The UNESCO said.
The Ethiopian journalist, who worked for several independent media before she founded in 2010 her own publishing house and a monthly magazine called Change, was arrested in June 2011 and is currently serving a five year prison sentence.
Many press freedom defense NGOs have called on the Ethiopian authorities to reconsider the sentence handed out to Reeyot Alemu on alleged terrorism charges and to show clemency on humanitarian grounds, as the iconic journalist underwent surgery for breast tumor.
Last week, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ), Joel Simon, sent a letter to Ethiopian Minister of Justice asking for the release of the journalist “whose health has deteriorated,” “who is now being threatened with solitary confinement,” and whose “full human rights are being denied to her”. According to the letter, Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as a punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and for having threatened to publicize human rights violations by prison guards.
The prison sentence against Reeyot for performing her duties and exercising her rights as a journalist calls into question Ethiopia’s commitment to the democratic values and human rights the country claims to uphold, said the CPJ executive director, urging Ethiopia to honor its promise to build a humane and democratic state by withdrawing the threat of solitary confinement against Reeyot and ensuring her access to adequate medical care.
Reeyot had received the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2012.
Source: Middle East Confidential (http://me-confidential.com)
The dividing line between developmental assistance and aid that is intended to strengthen human rights and democratic governance is an obscure boundary, yet it has considerable moral and strategic significance. Donor countries must weigh a variety of factors—including security and economic questions and the geopolitical role of the beneficiary country—that often leave democracy and human rights goals on the back burner. Such a ranking of priorities has an immediate negative effect on the ground, and it ultimately represents a costly trade-off in which long-term interests are exchanged for short-term gains.
By any plausible account, the performance of Ethiopia’s current government raises daunting dilemmas of this kind. International donors have generally responded by emphasizing economic growth and all but ignoring the erosion of human rights. It is an approach that flies in the face of American values and of current U.S. policy for sub-Saharan Africa, which explicitly promotes the creation of democratic and just societies.
The Ethiopian government’s recent actions clearly warrant scrutiny. In February of this year, the Federal High Court revived previously dismissed charges against one of the regime’s few remaining critics in the country, the respected journalist Temesghen Desalegn, who had been chief editor of the weekly newspaper Feteh until it was shut down by the government in July 2012. Temesghen must now confront charges of “outrages against the constitution” for having exercised a basic human right that Americans cherish—freedom of expression. The case is illustrative of a continuing and pervasive deterioration in the space for free speech, peaceful protest, and opposition political activity.
The death of longtime Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012 raised many uncertainties about the future of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, marked his passing by praising the prime minister’s “decades-long commitment to Ethiopia’s development” and “his tireless efforts to liberate his proud people from famine, poverty, and disease.” It is true that Meles was a leading figure in the revolutionary movement that rid Ethiopia of the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. And while Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries, Meles did preside over significant gains in economic development during his two decades as undisputed leader. He even adhered to a range of democratic standards after taking power. However, his leadership style became increasingly ironfisted over time, following a trajectory that is all too familiar in Africa. The close elections of 2005 led to years of persecution of the political opposition and suppression of civil society. The next elections in 2010 were thoroughly tainted by government intimidation of opposition parties and their supporters, independent media, and civic activists.
Despite this degradation on human rights and democratic governance, the international community has maintained its robust support for Ethiopia’s economic progress. The World Bank has become the country’s largest provider of official development assistance, offering over $7 billion in aid over the past 21 years. In 2006, amid growing concerns about human rights violations by the Meles government, the bank canceled all of Ethiopia’s debt as part of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.
Bilateral donors have also been active. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has shifted from the famine relief efforts of past decades to a relatively new strategy intended to help Ethiopia “transform its economy and society toward middle income status.” USAID hopes to achieve this by “coordinating its efforts more closely with the Government of Ethiopia, other donors and civil society.” But under Ethiopian government pressure, USAID projects to strengthen human rights and democratic governance have been assigned a lower priority than economic growth and trade. If it continues, this pattern could have sobering consequences.
For now, the EPRDF’s rule appears to be secure. An internal party compromise after Meles’s death confirmed Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. Nevertheless, the leadership shows no sign of opening the political space and allowing some dissenting voices to be heard. To the contrary, the assault on human rights has continued apace, with widespread use of internet surveillance, censorship of websites and social media, smear campaigns against all opposition figures, and broad application of restrictive statutes like the antiterrorism law and the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP). Few human rights organizations remain active in Ethiopia; they have not benefited from a largely symbolic relaxation of restrictions on nongovernmental organizations addressing issues like gender equality and maternal and child health. The CSP has cut off local human rights groups from foreign donors, and the authorities have stripped them of any existing assets and any opportunity to raise funds. Several opposition activists and Ethiopian journalists, including the blogger Eskinder Nega, still languish in prison, serving sentences on terrorism and treason charges. The EPRDF inhibits free private discussion by maintaining an presence at all levels of society, exploiting a network of paid informants and a nationwide telephone-tapping operation.
Recent economic development efforts in Ethiopia do benefit the poor in some ways, but they also serve to perpetuate and legitimize what is essentially a one-party authoritarian regime. Some argue that economic growth must come before high democratic governance standards and observance of human rights. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen offered a rebuttal to this position in his 1999 bookDevelopment as Freedom, explaining that “political rights, including freedom of expression and discussion, are not only pivotal in inducing social responses to economic needs, they are also central to the conceptualization of economic needs themselves.” In short, when economic growth is not linked to development priorities established through the democratic process, it is more likely to serve the existing power elite while neglecting the real needs of ordinary citizens.
Donors should devote more attention to the long-term costs of authoritarian rule. Businesses can only go so far in the absence of impartial courts, strong property rights, and independent corruption watchdogs in the media and civil society. Left to their own devices, dictators inevitably sacrifice the well-being of their subjects to protect their own wealth and security. Moreover, their regimes frequently end in violence and disorder, partly or totally destroying any economic or social gains they may have achieved, and reversing any contributions they might have made to regional stability. An aid strategy dedicated to genuine, sustainable prosperity and security would emphasize political rights and civil liberties at least as much as basic economic development, and resist pressure to work against the true interests of both donor and recipient.
Article by: Chloe Schwenke
An international media advocacy group has identified 10 countries where press freedom has suffered in 2012. Risk List 2012 from Committee to Protect Journalists on Vimeo. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on Thursday released its annual “Attacks on the Press” assessment of global press freedom, revealing a rise in attacks, which it attributes to a trend of repressive press laws as well as governments’ intolerance of dissent.
CPJ has for the first time compiled what it described as a “risk list” of countries that have shown the most significant “downward trends” on press freedom in 2012. Ethiopia was one among the countries listed in the new group, with its inclusion following the imprisonment of large numbers of journalists on anti-state or “terrorism” charges to thwart critical reporting, the group said. According to CPJ, Ethiopia is one of the leading jailers of journalists in Africa, with seven journalists currently behind bars. Only neighbouring Eritrea has more journalists in jail in Africa.
Other worrisome “downward trends” include high murder rates and “entrenched impunity”, as well as restrictive laws targeted at silencing dissent. Other countries on the risk list are Somalia, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Iran and Syria. “Attacks on the press exposes the aggressive efforts of state and non-state actors to silence journalists, particularly those covering crime, corruption, politics and conflict,” said CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney.
“The right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack,” he said. CPJ’s survey revealed an unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned during 2012. According to the figures, 70 journalists have been killed in the course of their duty in 2012, a 43% increase over the previous year, while at least 35 journalists have disappeared. The group identified that a record 232 journalists were behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since CPJ began surveys in 1990, indicating a deteriorating environment for global press freedom.
“We have seen whole newspapers brought down in countries like Ethiopia because there’s been an attack,” Mahoney said.
Some 79 Ethiopian journalists have fled their home country since 2001. According to the 2013 World Press Freedom Index report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RWR), Ethiopia dropped to 137th position in 2012, down from 127 the previous year.
URJII, November 12, 2012.
A U.S. panel on religious freedom has accused the Ethiopian Government of trying to tighten its control over the worshipers of the Islam Religion, the second biggest, if not the first, belief in the country, amid mass protests, saying it is risking greater destabilization of the Horn of Africa region.
Ethiopia, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against Muslim rebels in neighboring Somalia, says it fears militant Islam is taking root in the country. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) accused the government of arresting peaceful Muslim protesters, noting that 29 of them had been charged last month with what the authorities said was “planning to commit terrorist acts”.
Ethiopian Muslims, who make up about a third of the population in a country believed to be dominated by Christianity, accuse the government of interfering in the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Thousands of Muslims have staged weekly mosque sit-ins and street protests in Addis Ababa over the past year. “The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia,” the Commission said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Ethiopian officials were unavailable for comment on the statement from the Commission, whose members are appointed by President Barack Obama and senior Congressional Democrats and Republicans. Commission Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett called on the U.S. government to raise the issue with Addis Ababa. “USCIRF has found that repressing religious communities in the name of countering extremism leads to more extremism, greater instability, and possibly violence,” she said. “Given Ethiopia’s strategic importance in the Horn of Africa … it is vital that the Ethiopian government end its religious freedom abuses and allow Muslims to practice peacefully their faith as they see fit,” she added. “Otherwise the government’s current policies and practices will lead to greater destabilization of an already volatile region.”
Over the past six years Ethiopia has twice sent troops into Somalia to battle Islamist rebels, including al Shaabab militants, and officials say some of the protesters are bankrolled by Islamist groups in the Middle East. The Commission backed the protesters’ complaints that the government had been trying since last year to impose the apolitical Al Ahbash sect on Ethiopian Muslims. The government has denied this but dozens of Muslims have been arrested since the demonstrations started in 2011. Ethiopia is 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, according to official figures, with the vast majority of Muslims adhering to the moderate, Sufi version of Islam.
URJII, September 19, 2012.
By: Graham Peebles
“What’s yours is mine; what’s mine’s my own.”
It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.
Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the ‘new rulers of the World’ large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, ‘The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers’ “80 per cent (of worldwide land) –about 2 billion hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop production” is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it’s report states “By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”
This contemporary ‘Land Grab’ has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting pressures. 1. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘Land Banking’, sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in its report ‘The Great land Grab’ found “along with hedge funds and speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%”. Land not as home, land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of commercialisation.
Chopping Trees Cutting Costs
As well we know everything and indeed everyone ‘has its price’. Even the people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report, “In Mali one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere “$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate.” According to The Guardian (21/3/2011) “The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher.”
Ethiopia: For sale
The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to wheat and rice. All let us state clearly, for export to Saudi Arabia, India, China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of Ethiopia not.
The Oakland Institute research “shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land (an area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” The government claims that the land available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense. Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by small holders, subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report ‘Waiting Here For Death’ states, “The Ethiopian federal government’s current villagization program is occurring in four regions—Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar. This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country—500,000 in Somali region, 500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in Gambella.” Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.
Level growing field
There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares) is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares (ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where 200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced to clear rail.
With the land grab crucially goes water – and the appropriation of this vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers, digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore holes. The Oakland Institute in its report ‘Land Investment in Ethiopia quotes Saudi Star stating “that water will be their biggest issue, and numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River).” There are no controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure for ‘appropriating’ water is in place. These politically favoured investors are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods. There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia, distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.
In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin, fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO of Karuturi described “the incentives available to the floriculture industry in Ethiopia as “mouthwatering,” including low air freights on the state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties,” reports Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 “20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton… “We could feed a
nation here”, says Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles – generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found “the [land] concessions are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.”
Unstable supply of staples
Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report “commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land investments” and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he ‘predicted that “large-scale farming could bring some employment, but “not much”. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity.” Intensifying food insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible for costs of Teff (used to make injera – the daily bread) quadrupling in the last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the Earth International “The result (of land sell offs) has often been … people forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural poverty and greater risk of food shortages” Food security will be realised when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report ‘Land Power Rights’ points out, “Small-scale producers, particularly women, can indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage, extension, and research.”
Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see them flourish.
Land rights, human cost, environmental damage
The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the 1960s and ‘70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article 40, 3 states “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange. And 4) “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.” And in regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5) “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article 26/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.” And paragraph 2.”Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” The declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article 28/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” Paragraph 2. “Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”
The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor countries to Ethiopia.
Land and People
People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, that states in Article 92/3. “People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly”. Hollow words to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012, he “insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their land. “Nobody came to tell us what was happening.” He goes on to say “This land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days’ walk.” Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued, “two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we only have fish to sell.” And with the company draining the wetlands, the fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the Meles regime and as The Observer states “to smooth the wheels of commerce, Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi’s former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as chief executive of Saudi Star.”
Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations are not being paid.
Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime will hand over the land free of any ‘encumbrances’ – people and property that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports “Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving.” The Government says any movement is voluntary and not enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the government’s criminality “mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.”
A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.
Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at email@example.com
Source: Eurasia Review News and Analysis online – http://www.eurasiareview.com/30052012-the-ethiopian-land-giveaway-oped/
URJII, July 7, 2012
The 2012 Sports tournament of Oromos in North America, that has been taking place in Toronto, Canada from June 30 to July 7, 2012, was colourfully completed this evening with the final match and battle over trophy between Oromia 11 Stars and Ten Thousand Lakes; Oromia 11 Stars winning the trophy with 4 to 1 victory over Ten Thousand Lakes.
The tournament attracted about eight teams from North America, Canada and the USA; and over twenty matches were carried out among those teams. There were also different socio-cultural events and public gathering accompanying the tournament, among which the Golden Jubilee of the formation of Afran Qallu, (the first Oromo arts and cultural band), the launching of which also marked the beginning of Oromo cultural and political movements.
Although the tournament was really well planned and executed, the turnout of fans was very minimal. Though around 7,000 (seven thousand) Oromos are believed to be living in the GTA (the Greater Toronto Area), the seats around the stadium very almost empty most of the time, even on July 2nd, which was a holiday in Canada. However, there has been a good size of fans on this final day of the tournament. Oromos in diaspora need to re-think about being part of the social and cultural campaigns, regardless of the challenging live in exile. They need not to abandon themselves just in pursuit of a foreign life and/or lifestyle.
URJY, June 29, 2012
An Ethiopia court has convicted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 24 people, including the prominent journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, of terrorism after finding them guilty of having links with a US-based opposition group designated by the ruling TPLF/EPRDF party as a terrorist organization.
Only eight defendants, including Iskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, were present in court when the verdict was announced. The remaining 16 defendants were convicted in absentia. The 24 men were accused of several offenses, including conspiring to dismantle the constitutional order, encouraging terrorism and high treason, charges that carry maximum punishment including death penalty according to the law. Nevertheless, prosecutors demanded life imprisonments for each of the defendants. They are expected to be sentenced next month. The defendants were convicted under a 2009 terrorism law, which human rights groups have consistently criticized for being too far-reaching.
Mr. Iskinder Nega was arrested last September for publishing an article questioning arrests made under the anti-terrorism law, particularity that of an Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu. He was also accused of inciting violence by writing about a possible popular unrest in Ethiopia like the Arab Spring and of supporting a US-based opposition party called Ginbot Seven, which the government has designated as a terrorist group. This is not the first time for Iskinder to be charged, convicted, and punished in the same way. He has previously spent years in different Ethioopian jails including Kaliti.
Incidentally, two Ethiopian journalists were sentenced to 14 years in prison in January on similar charges. Previously, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison in December. All of them were accused of having links with the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Like Ginbot Seven, the Ethiopian government has designated the ONLF also as a terrorist organization. The ONLF has been fighting the Ethiopian government for securing greater independence for the Ogaden region bordering Somalia.
URJII, June 8, 2012.
EFORT – the development agency turned party-affiliated business company, is still rehabilitating Tirgray in some cases at the expense of other regional states. According to HRLHA, a human rights agency working on the Horn, a mining project underway by this company in the western Oromia zone of Illubabor is causing loses and destructions to both individual and collective lives, all resulting from irresponsibility, contempt, and disrespect. Inserted is a partial view of the mining site with tropical rainforest in the background from afar; and below is the full text of a press release issued by HRLHA regarding this issue:
Apart from displacements and dispossessions without consents and compensations, more and more negative consequences of land grab in the name of development are surfacing from time to time in different parts of Ethiopia; all outcries, criticisms and demands for corrective measures falling on deaf ears.
According to information obtained by HRLHA from Wixate locality in Yayyo District of Ilubabbor Zone in western Oromia, a teenager called Zerihun Girma has died after being buried alive in a man-made landslide created from a mountain of soil dumped along a small river in a residential area. The soil was coming from the digging into the ground for a coal mine project underway in the area. Zerihun, a grade eight student of age 14, was playing with his fellow teenagers when this happened to him without any awareness and doubt about the deadly nature of the dump. Not only that the soil and other excavations from the digging were being dumped in a residential neighbourhood, but also there were no signs of warning posted to keeping people and animals away from the area. The teenager’s body could not have been located had it not been for his mates who were playing with him at the moment.
The local people told HRLHA’s agent that the operators of bulldozers, who were at work on the site when Zerihun’s body was retrieved, were not even cooperative to remove the hill of soil to reach the teenager’s remains. (Inserted on the left is the victimized teenager Zerihun Girma)
The other outrageous act that has angered the local people was the digging up of a cemetery that has been there for over a century without the slightest respect for the human remains lying underneath. According to eyewitnesses, a lot of human remains, some of them still wrapped up in burial clothes, were coming out on to the surface when the bulldozer operators continued to dig the area despite the strong opposition from the local residents. More inhumane and shocking was that no attempts were made to allow and help the local people to even collect and re-burry the remains somewhere else.
Personalized complaints in relation to this particular land grab are that the displaced farmers, some of whom have up to seven family members on average, were neither consulted nor given their consents, and that everything was directly or indirectly imposed from above. They add that some of them received no or very minimal compensations their properties including homes, land, fruits and coffee plantations. A displaced farmer who was interviewed by HRLHA’s local agent mentioned that he was paid 1.4 million Ethiopian Birr for his overall properties that were originally estimated at 4.4 million. Another interviewee, who claimed to have been offered the lowest estimation for his properties, said that he was paid 4,400 (four thousand four hundred) Ethiopian only; instead of the original estimate which was 248,000 (two hundred forty eight thousand) Ethiopian. This particular interviewee, whose name was Zeinu Ibrahim, told HRLHA local agent that he was summoned to the district police headquarters and administration office, and threatened with losing everything and go bear-handed if he were not accepting what he was offered.
The HRLHA has learnt through its correspondent that the coal mine project is owned and operated by two TPLF/EPRDF affiliated para-party companies known as EFORT (Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray) and Mekelakeya Engineering. Contrary to the rhetoric that with land grabs in the name of development – job opportunity, economic growth, etc – this coal mine project in Yayyo, Witate in particular comes with hardly any benefit for the local people. This is because there is nothing to be done in the area, apart from digging the coal out and taking it up to the Tigray Region, where the processing of the mine takes place. Asked by the local people at the initial stage of the mining project as to why the processing was not planned to be done here at the mining site or in nearby areas, the politician answered that the processing machinery was too big and too heavy to be transported down to this western part of the country – an explanation deemed a pretext that is aimed at discriminately benefitting the ruling party and its region of origin (Tigray).
The project is said to be affecting six kebeles (the lowest and smallest administrative territory); and so far 13 (thirteen) households have been displaced and made almost homeless with no alternatives given to them for livelihoods. Mr. Zeinu (mentioned above) from Witate kebele, whose wife is expecting in addition to five other family members, said that he and his wife are waiting for the arrival of the new baby in the middle of nowhere. What is more, this coal mine project is taking place at the heart of a big geographical area designated by UNESCO to be preserved for the diverse wildlife, forestry, and other natural resources, posing a huge threat of environmental catastrophe. (Insert: Obbo Zeinu Ibrahim – one of the displaced and dispossessed)
In general, all that have been demonstrated around this coal mine project are disregard, lack of care and precautions for both human and other lives and the environment, contempt and disrespect for the local people and their social, cultural, and religious values, biases, irresponsibility and lack of accountability particularly in facilitating means of rehabilitation for the people who are being dispossessed and displaced. In countries like Ethiopia where the majority leads a hand-to-mouth life, depriving peoples off their means of existence without replacements or alternative is condemning them to absolute destitution, and risking human lives.
The HRLHA calls up on the Ethiopian Government to interfere in this and other similar situations in which the local people are victimized socially and economically by become preys of the greedy that pursue group interest. We request that the Government discharge Its responsibility as a legitimate ruling body by ensuring that there is a levelled playing field for all stakeholders, and that such development projects are free from political favouritism and regional biases, and that the local people are the prime beneficiaries, not victims, of development activities. We also call up on all local, regional and/or global development agencies who have partnered with the Government and are directly or indirectly engaged in development activities in the Country that they play a watchdog role of monitoring that there are fair treatments of the ordinary citizens and equal benefits of resource exploitations and management.
The HRLHA is a non-political organization (with the UN Economic and Social Council – (ECOSOC) Consultative Status) which attempts to challenge abuses of human rights of the people of various nations and nationalities in the Horn of Africa. It works on defending fundamental human rights including freedoms of thought, expression, movement and association. It also works on raising the awareness of individuals about their own basic human rights and that of others. It encourages the observances as well as due processes of law. It promotes the growth and development of free and vigorous civil societies.
URJII, May 09, 2012
Protests by Ethiopian Muslims spread across the country on May 4, 2012 when hundreds of thousands in the Ethiopian capital defied government threats and went on protesting against the “Ahbashism Campaign” instigated by the government and “Majlis”. Observers agree the brutal killing of innocent people in Assasa town has fueled tension between the government and the Muslim community which has now drawn more towns into the strikes. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Government said on Friday night that it has expelled two Arabs who came to call for “Jihad” and incite violence at the grand Anwar Mosque of Addis Ababa. However, the report is dismissed by many Muslims as “a fabricated story”.
Protests and Silencing
Shocked by the mass uprising after the recent killing of seven innocent Muslims in Assasa town (Arsi province), government authorities were busy on defending the massacre and threatening the public through state-owned media. They were also mobilizing Ahbash adherents to deter the protests in the upcoming days. The imams of mosques have been told to take all actions to stop Muslims chanting “takbira (i.e saying “Allahu Akbar!”) and marching for protests after Friday prayer. On the other hand, more than 300 people have been reportedly arrested in Assasa and other towns of Arsi Province over the week.
On May 4 beginning early in the morning, thousands of police and civil security forces were deployed in Addis Ababa and other towns to scare off the people. But at midday, all of the preventive methods applied by the government were proved to be ineffective. And immediately after the completion of Friday prayer, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Addis Ababa and other towns filled the sky with defeafening chants of: “Stop Ahbashism campaign! The people want to step down Majlis! Allahu Akbar!!”
Sheikh Mohammed Adem, a Muslim religious scholar living in Addis Ababa says, “The people are asking their basic right. We are asking for freedom of worship. We tolerated many repressive measures for more than 17 years. But this time, we say ‘enough’ to oppression. We won’t turn back until we attain our goal”. The protest at the Anwar Mosque (the grand mosque of Addis Ababa) and over the nearby streets was so intense that Mercato – one of the largest open air markets in Africa – came to a standstill for hours. Witnesses say there have been similar protests in Dessie, Jimma, Assela, Agaro, DireDawa, Alaba, Assasa, Warabe, Jijiga, Robe and Shashemene.
The current tension between government and Muslim Ethiopians started in July 2011 when the government-backed “Majlis” launched a campaign to indoctrinate Muslims in the ideology of a newly arriving controversial sect called “Ahbash”. But Muslims came to direct protest at the beginning of this year when the leaders of “Majlis” sacked 50 teachers of Aweliya Islamic institute and tried to substitute them with “Ahbash” scholars. The government supported the action taken by “Majlis” and said “Aweliya had been a training center of terror ideology. ‘Wahhabis’ were arming the youth with fundamentals of extremism. So the Majlis has taken the appropriate measure”. In spite of its open support for “Majlis”, the government continues to deny any interference in religious affairs. Through state owned media, it says “We are training Muslim scholars on the constitution and legal framework of the country. Apart from this, the government hasn’t interfered in spiritual affairs of the Muslims”.
Free viewers say “The government is highly terrorized by a continuing wave of protests. This week’s intensive media coverage about the Assasa massacre and the Muslim uprising are indications of government’s fear. In some occasions, some government authorities were expressing their worry about the ongoing condition”. These viewers point to what happened recently on a meeting conducted at Addis Ababa city hall where only selective pro-government imams and “Majlis” leaders have participated. On that meeting, sources say, the head of Addis Ababa Bureau of Justice and Security spoke to the attendants “The mass has turned against us. We couldn’t control the people. You have taken a mission to convince the people. But you did nothing. What were you doing until now? Our government is highly troubled by the Friday protests.” He also ordered the imams to stop any protests in and around mosques. Muslim scholars say “The authorities are disturbing themselves. We are asking for freedom of worship. We are asking them to stop imposing the ideology of ‘Ahbash’ on our people. We are asking them to apply what they have written on the constitution of the country. We didn’t ask them to share us political power.” They also say that the current media campaign can’t silence the people and add “Our faith is the only hope we have. It is the only rope that ties us to our God. They are going to cut out this rope. But that will never happen as long as we are alive”.
The two Arabs
On Friday night, The Ethiopian Television reported that two Arabs who came from the Middle East to incite violence in the main mosques was caught red handed and immediately expelled from the country. The government said that the two people were found while they make inflammatory statements and distribute materials calling for “jihad”. The two Arab came to Addis Ababa on Friday morning, says the government. Their name and nationality was not disclosed even though they were shown on TV screen. The Muslims who attended the Friday prayer at Anwar mosque say “The government’s statement is completely false. It is fabricated to defame our peaceful struggle. No one has distributed inflammatory material at Anwar Mosque. If they caught two Arab “Jihadists”, why didn’t they disclose their name and nationality? How do people caught on such illegal activity expelled without being investigated and tried?”
One scholar rejects government’s statement and asks “How can a person that came to Ethiopia on Friday morning directly goes to Anwar mosque and distribute “Jihadi” papers in the midday? Why did the Ethiopian government authorities contented only in expelling them to their country? Why didn’t they bring the two Arabs to the court? They have to answer these questions”. To paraphrase his statement, this scholar mentions what happened to two Swedish journalists when they were caught in the remote region of Ogaden together with some fighters of Ogaden National Liberation Front.
After the “Assasa Killing”
After the deadly incident happened at Assasa, in the last week, many top leaders of the ruling party were undertaking a “silencing meeting” all over the country. In one of such meetings undertaken at Assasa town on Wednesday, Mr. Abdul-Aziz Ahmed, the Vice President of Oromiya regional state was heard in public media saying “In the name of asking for freedom of worship, some politically motivated groups have planned to overthrow the government. They have caused the death of civilians in this town. They have plotted similar deadly riots in all of the country. They government won’t allow them to continue in this way. We will stop them in all possible ways”.
Sheikh Aman Nure, an elderly scholar living in Adama town (originally from Assela town, Arsi province) rejects the official’s accusation and says “Last week, they said they have arrested a man calling for ‘Jihad’ and they killed his ‘Jihadi’ supporters. Now they say ‘political groups have plotted the massacre’. This has been their behavior for two decades. They can’t repeat what they speak today. Our country is governed by such liars who don’t care about the tradition and ethics of our people”.
The Assasa massacre was highly condemned by many religious scholars of the country. Ethiopian Diaspora communities of Europe, North America and the Middle East have sent strong statements to the government asking to investigate the actual cause of the massacre through an independent commission. Rebel political groups like Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front have condemned the massacre and released statements in support of the peaceful struggle of Ethiopian Muslim Society.
Article: By Yuunus Hajji Mul’ataa
Source: Anyuak Media